With 2012, state laws kick in on everything from immigration to shark fins

State legislatures passed close to 40,000 new laws in 2011, and a number of those measures take effect on Jan. 1. On some issues, like immigration, state laws are taking markedly different stands.

Gregory Bull/AP
A driver uses a hands-free device to talk on a cellphone, in San Diego. Many new state laws take effect in 2012, including restrictions on cellphone use while driving in many states.

2012 will be a more highly regulated year since all 50 state legislatures passed close to 40,000 new laws in 2011. A number of those measures will take effect Jan. 1.

A compilation prepared by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) highlights laws taking effect on New Year's Day in at least 21 states. State legislators have been especially active on issues pertaining to immigration, government costs, and the care of young people. But Americans will face new state laws on a wide variety of areas ranging from abortion to the distribution of shark fins, the NCSL report shows.  

NCSL did not provide a breakdown on which states produced the most new laws, but its report on laws taking effect on Jan. 1 was heavy with legislation from California.

In some cases, states are taking markedly different stands on issues, with immigration being a key example. Laws requiring businesses to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to determine the eligibility of workers to be employed in the United States will go into effect in Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. But a law taking effect Jan. 1 in California takes almost the opposite approach: It prohibits any state or local government from requiring a private employer to use the E-Verify program unless required to do so by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds.

On the cost-control front, state employees will feel the pinch. A Delaware law requires new state employees who become members of the Delaware pension fund to make larger contributions than earlier members. It also will require those new members to be older or to work longer than current members to earn a pension benefit.

In North Dakota, state workers' pension contributions also increase. An Oklahoma law increases the retirement age for judges who start work after Jan. 1.

State lawmakers also passed numerous laws in 2011 to protect children and improve their education. In Illinois, those 18 and under will be required to wear seat belts when using taxis to travel to school functions. A law in Oregon requires state universities and community colleges to waive tuition and fees for current and former foster children under age 25. And California passed a law to prohibit the use of ultraviolet tanning devices by those under age 18.

Several measures regulating abortion take effect on New Year’s Day. In New Hampshire, girls seeking an abortion will be required to first tell their parents or a judge. It was passed over the governor’s veto. Meanwhile, a law takes effect in Arkansas aimed at Planned Parenthood facilities that provided an abortion pill. It requires facilities that perform 10 or more nonsurgical abortions a month be subject to the same kind of state Health Department inspections as facilities offering surgical abortions.

Many states passed laws aimed at restricting texting or the use of cellphones when driving. A Nevada law prohibits drivers from text messaging and using hand-held phone devices. North Dakota passed one law that bans drivers younger than 18 from using cellphones and another that bars all drivers from text messaging. Oregon adjusted its laws on the subject, adding an exception for drivers operating a tow vehicle, roadside assistance vehicle, or a vehicle owned by a utility.

While most of the laws that take effect in 2012 are aimed at protecting people, some focus on the animal kingdom. Two coastal states, California and Oregon, passed measures prohibiting the possession, sale, or distribution of shark fins. The fins are used in soup and are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.  Animal-rights advocates argued it was cruel to cut off a shark’s fin and then dump the fish back in the ocean. 

Material from the Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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